China has signed a 10-year deal with the African nation Djibouti to build a military base there -- China's first military base on the continent, said U.S. Army Gen. David Rodriguez, who is a commander with U.S. Africa Command. China has long had an economic foothold in Africa, but the base would be an expansion of its military prowess beyond the Asia-Pacific region.
Djibouti is a small country in East Africa, across from Yemen and on the Gulf of Aden, with a population of just under 830,000. The vast majority of the population is Muslim; about 6 percent are Christian. Djibouti also hosts about 4,000 U.S. military service members at Camp Lemonnier, which, according to its website, is a Navy-led establishment that supports and prepares ships, aircraft and other deployments for "regional and combatant command requirements." It also enables U.S. military operations in the surrounding Horn of Africa while "fostering positive U.S.-African Nation relations," the website said.
The new Chinese base would be a logistics hub, Rodriguez said, the Hill reported. It would also allow China to improve its ability to gather intelligence in the region and beyond, such as parts of the Middle East, the Arabian Peninsula as and Central Africa.
Not only would China save money by building its own military base in Djibouti, it would also increase its global stature, J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, told the Hill.
To some, the Chinese expansion also poses a threat to U.S. interests and capabilities. “Overall, China’s presence in Africa is certainly something we need to pay more attention to -- but not just in Djibouti. Africa’s middle class is growing faster than ever, and the continent offers great opportunities for partnerships between both governments and the private sector," Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, said. "We don’t want to lose out on those opportunities to Chinese companies or the Chinese government."
China is Africa's largest bilateral trading partner, with trade volume double that of U.S.-Africa trade in 2013. In 2000, bilateral trade between Africa and China was around $10 billion; by 2014 it had exploded to more than $200 billion. China has tapped into Africa's vast mineral and oil resources while simultaneously shipping Chinese-made goods to Africa. Still, in the wake of a Chinese economic slowdown over the past year, some are concerned that the close trade ties with Beijing will hurt Africa.